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Galago

Three Rivers Safari: Luambe, Kafue, Vic Falls

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Galago

Part 1: Luangwa river & Luambe National Park

 

Although this was my sixth visit to Zambia over a stretch of 17 years, I hadn’t been there for five years and I was itching to be back. The schedule was from 22nd October 2018:

  • 1 x night Pioneer Camp, Lusaka
  • 7 x nights Luambe Camp, Luambe NP
  • 1 x night Pioneer Camp
  • 6 x nights Musekese Camp, Kafue NP (I’d wanted 7 nights but they were fully booked)
  • 1 x night Pioneer Camp
  • 4 x nights Waterberry Lodge, near Livingstone
  •  

I chose Luambe as I’d been to the Luangwa Valley several times but only seen Luambe from the air when I flew up to north park and I was keen to go somewhere that was pretty much off the beaten track. This was Luambe Camp’s second season and I’d heard they were making great strides in conservation in an area which had been neglected (except by poachers) for years. Of course, the wildlife isn’t very habituated but, for me, that wasn’t a problem.

 

I’d wanted to visit Musekese Camp for ages, having been thwarted in 2013 when early rains flooded the camp (at its previous site) and then even more so since @KafueTyrone was my guide in Zakouma NP, Chad last February. A major attraction for me is that both Luambe and Musekese are small camps, just four tents taking 8 guests, with two safari vehicles. The OH decided to join me quite late in the day and long after all the bookings had been made. It was his first safari and he had trepidations about the venture. But I loved all his questions, finding that I knew considerably less than I thought I did!

 

And a quick note: I only use a bridge camera as arthritis has stopped me using anything heavier, so my pics are nowhere near the standard of so many ST'ers, but I hope they'll give you a flavour of what it was like. I suppose the best snapshots are always those we carry in our memories anyway.

 

On arrival in Lusaka, via Dubai, the first stop is good old Pioneer Camp, a handy overnight place prior to an early return to the airport next morning. By the time you arrive at Pioneer Camp you do feel a bit like a pioneer, if only because the last few kilometres of road are unbelievably pot-holed and you’ve made the journey in a people carrier designed for tarmac surfaces. You could say it’s by way of an introduction to game drives, but there’s no game here, just people making long dusty walks to and from work or school. There’s no public transport after the turn off from the main road, even though we’re only on the outskirts of Lusaka.

 

We’re greeted by Precious and the driver takes us straight to cottage no.14, towards the end of the site in a quiet spot. We take our night stuff out of our bags and head straight for the bar. It’s now over 24 hours since we left home and we need a drink, food and, most of all, sleep before our 5 am pick up tomorrow. Don’t worry, I say to the OH, we can just check-in and then get breakfast at the airport café.

 

We get back to the airport at 5.30am only to find that check-in for our flight to Mfuwe doesn’t open till 6.00. We get coffee and, with only US dollars, we’re ripped off. Note to self: next time change some money into kwacha on arrival! Check in opens on the dot and we stand for ages while the ground staff stare at the computer screen. Then come the words you just don’t want to hear, “Ah, you are not booked on this flight.” We go to the Proflight office, just across from the desk, and it’s open. The single agent is dealing with a customer, slowly, very slowly. I try my best to look calm in the face of rising panic: how do we let Luambe Camp know? How can I contact our agent, it’s 4.00 am in the UK? After what seems like an age, she's free, she looks at our schedule and, after a long search, tells me that we are not booked on the Lusaka/ Mfuwe return, neither are we booked on the Lusaka/ Livingstone flight. I take a deep breath, “Are there seats on these flights?” Another long search, but the answer is yes. “Ok, please book them all for both of us. And our flight closes in ten minutes, so can you please do this very quickly.” We squeak through just before the flight closes. So much for breakfast.

 

Our one and a bit hour flight to Mfuwe is familiar to me, great views of the Valley, super sweet juice and a croissant that’s seen better days. There’s the usual gaggle of guides waiting for their visitors but I don’t see a Luambe badge. My enquiry produces Lameck, our guide for the next week, and we ask if we might eat before starting our four hour drive. He takes us to Tinta’s Café in Mfuwe where we have eggs, toast and coffee. The walls are painted with silhouettes of animals and a woman sporting an Afro and large, hooped earrings. The loo is a block across the yard with the sign ‘MEN to the left because WOMEN are always right’. Outside a board advertises Obama Car Wash, promising that ‘We clean beyond your expatation (sic)’.

 

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We drive through villages and enjoying a good chat with Lameck. White-browed Sparrow-weavers, that sound of the Valley, are everywhere, their woven grass nests hanging from trees. After an hour or so we enter the park, the Nsefu Sector, and it’s bone dry, but we see baboons and warthogs, then half a dozen Thornicroft’s giraffes doing their best to look like a single giraffe with multiple necks and heads.

 

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Suddenly a Sharpe’s Grysbok dashes through the bush and disappears. I tell the OH that this must be beginner’s luck because they’re not seen often. A Banded mongoose runs across the path, first time I’ve ever seen a solitary one. We pass the sign for Luambe National Park and then there’s a bachelor herd of elephants, five of them, some with beautifully long tusks. They’re shy and unused to vehicles in this park, but they don’t move away too quickly.

 

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As we get close to camp, Lameck radios in and the staff are lined up to greet us. The camp is small, clean and neat and Dyton, the housekeeper, takes us to our tent. He is very detailed and precise in his explanation of everything and clearly takes great pride in his work. And so he should. The tent is enormous and spotless, with towels folded into elephants on the bed, a loo with a view and double washbasins. It’s a few metres from the banks of the Luangwa river and the view is lovely. There are more hippos right in front of our tent than I’ve seen anywhere in the Luangwa Valley before. 

 

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We return to the chitenge for our welcome drink, a refreshing lime soda with bitters and then an even more welcome G&T. The common area is quite compact, with a dining table, bar and small sofa plus a couple of chairs but, as the camp only sleeps eight, it's spacious enough. There are also two or three chairs on the grass facing the river.

 

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Teatime with flapjacks and we meet our two game drive companions but they decide to rest so we set off with Lameck driving accompanied by Bernard, the camp’s DNPW (Dept. of National Parks and Wildlife) armed scout. Normally the armed scout only accompanies guests on walks but this camp is so remote and is the only camp in the park, so he comes out on all the activities. Lameck is hopeful that the wild dogs may be around – and so are we, but it’s not to be today.

Edited by Galago
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Galago

4.45 am and the near-full moon over the river is making a ribbon of golden light, stunningly beautiful. A Greenshank, a refugee from the European winter, is busily feeding on the opposite shore, turning this way and that. However, the hippos have snorted, hollered and just downright screamed ALL night and we are feeling pretty wrecked.

A plus about Luambe Camp is that there’s no time wasting over breakfast and we’re able to get out to catch the dawn. A cup of tea and some rather hard biscuits and we set off in the vehicle at 5.30. The air is surprisingly cool and the light shining through the stands of mopane trees is stunning. This changes to a post-apocalyptic landscape of grey sand and mopane trees destroyed by elephants and floods. It’s quiet in terms of wildlife but the birds are good and, although I’m rusty, the names are coming back to me. A Blue Waxbill is just the bluest I’ve ever seen.

 

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We reach the river and get a flat tyre so, while the guide and scout set about changing the tyre, not the easiest task as we’re on sand, we enjoy the beautiful view of the river. The Luangwa just has to be the most beautiful river in the world and, at this time of year, it offers layers of colour: sandy banks topped with massive riverine trees, golden sand bars and islets, shallow water and deeper areas reflecting the blue sky and massive trees swept into the river at high water season or fallen as the soil holding their roots has crumbled away from the banks. A Shikra flashes overhead and through a Hook Thorn tree with white pom-pom flowers, a Green-backed Heron performs a sort of silly walk along the water’s edge, looking like it’s doing the hokey-cokey. A pair of mini-parrots, Lillian’s Lovebirds, perch on a dead tree, their white ringed eyes staring from scarlet faces atop green bodies.

 

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We drive along to another part of the river where there’s a breeding colony of Southern Carmine Bee-eaters. As we get out of the vehicle and approach the edge of a small cliff they fly up in great clouds. Seeing any bird in such numbers is striking, but these birds are little stunners with turquoise heads, pink throats and bellies, cinnamon wings and a blue patch on the tail. They remind me of the brilliantly coloured saris worn by rural women in central India. The bee-eaters swirl up and around, landing all over a nearby sand island and making trees look like they’ve been hung with Xmas decorations.

 

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The four of us stand in wonder and then, on the opposite side of the river, a herd of seven eles comes slowly down the bank and into the water, drinking as they cross. The Carmines are darting all around. It’s a scene so perfect I have tears in my eyes. The eles don’t know we’re here, there’s no wind and we stand in raptured silence. They reach our side of the river, barely 50 metres away and slowly make their way into the bush.

 

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On the way back a Little Bee-eater, all green and primrose yellow, hawks from a dead branch and a Goliath Heron stands stock still in the river bed waiting for prey to appear.

 

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Breakfast is a bit like the 'Full English' – eggs, sausage, beans and tomatoes with toast, but with the constant sound of hippos. While the OH tries to catch up on sleep I sit by the river, doing my bird checklist and listening to 300 hippos and a Red-chested Cuckoo calling incessantly. It’s just arrived and is setting up its territory ready for breeding. Back at the tent there’s a house gecko and a Rain Tree frog in the bathroom. Hurrah, they are both mossie eaters.

After tea we see vultures circling and dropping into an area not far away so we follow and find 20 or so White-backed Vultures on the remains of a buck impala. Lameck thinks this was probably a natural death, discovered via vultures’ remarkable ability to spot food from vast distances.

 

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We head out onto a big, grass plain where a lone bull elephant is standing. He’s 25-30 years old, yet almost dwarfed by the tall, golden grass around him. We bump and clatter over dried out cotton soil, that wonderful provider of the ‘African massage’. Groups of Puku are making their way to the open areas, a safer place to spend the night, accompanied by some Southern Ground Hornbills, black turkey type birds with scarlet faces and wobbly jowls. The ground is covered with feeding doves, Cape Turtle and Laughing, and the ever comical but beautifully marked Helmeted Guineafowl.

 

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Reaching a more wooded area, a bull giraffe is sitting down and Lameck explains that this is how giraffes sleep. The head nods but never goes right down to the ground. They can manage a maximum of six minutes sleep before having to lift the head again. We all feel sorry for giraffes.

 

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Back onto the plain again and it opens out into a massive area. There are tons of buffalo droppings on the ground but no sign of the perpetrators. Then we see some Cookson’s Wildebeest, a species endemic to the Luangwa Valley. They are very skittish and immediately move away, showing the stripes on their necks and shoulders so reminiscent of pre-historic cave paintings.

 

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Sundowners are accompanied by a richly red and gold sunset, but then there’s an unexpected treat. We're facing the sunset but then I turn and see the full moon rising pale pink in the east, becoming pearl white as it gets higher and then, as it rises further and catches the upward rays of the sunset, rich gold. None of us have ever seen anything like this.

 

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As darkness falls we head back to camp, spotlighting for nocturnal critters. A Genet sits in the spotlight staring elegantly back at us (and unfortunately the little bridge camera didn't do it much justice but I'd never seen one posing like this before so I'm including it, even though it's a lousy shot!). Genets look like grey and black cats, a mix of stripes and spots, but they are part of the mongoose family. A couple of Lesser Bushbabies are tiny, less than 15 cms long, and they are bouncing up and down on a branch. They make enormous leaps, so fast that it’s difficult to follow them. Then another two are on the ground, one of them springing up and down like a jack-in-the-box.

 

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Edited by Galago
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Kitsafari

@Galago such a beautifully written report with such rhythm that the bush has come alive for me.

Impatiently waiting for more. 

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Towlersonsafari

Hurrah @Galago loving the report so far and looking forward to hearing all about Luambe as it is somewhere I really want to visit! forgive me for mentioning it, and your photos, especially the moon and the bee eaters, are splendid, but i swapped to micro four thirds for arthritic reasons as it is so much lighter.Still a rubbish photographer but enjoying it much more!

Edited by Towlersonsafari

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Galago

@Kitsafari Thank you Kit. That's a real compliment from someone whose writing I admire :rolleyes:

 

@Towlersonsafari Thank you very much. I don't know much about cameras and micro four thirds is beyond me. If you can tell me what it is, I'd be grateful.

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michael-ibk

A great start, @Galago, it´s really cool to get some information about Luambe, a park I knew absolutely nothing about until you mentioned it some time ago. Wow, what a scare at the beginning, at least you were able to get that flight though it must have been costly. I absolutely love the photo of the Elephants coming to the river with the Carmines dashing through, what an iconic scene!

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Galago

@michael-ibk Yes, it was such a wonderful scene, complete magic! Actually the flights turned out to be cheaper - late booking seems to be cheaper on ProFlight. So it actually saved us a bit of dosh, although the cost to my nerves was somewhat higher!

Edited by Galago

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Galago

Thanks to the hippos I’ve been awake since 2am. Not only are there 300 concentrated in the diminishing water in front of camp, but I reckon the full moon is making them even more vocal. Of course, hippos always grunt a lot at night, especially when returning to the water after grazing on land, it's something I've become accustomed to, but this is an entirely different order of noise. As one hippo returns, it hollers and then it seems that each of the remaining 299 answer in turn. Then, as they reach the pod and attempt to find a space, fights and squabbles break out. It is never ending and it also drowns out many of the night noises I enjoy hearing if I wake up but in the occasional breaks in the wall of sound I hear a Thick-tailed Bush Baby shouting close by, a hyena in the distance and a Water Thick-knee, again close to the tent, making its ‘flat battery’ descant call. A hippo charges through the bush behind our tent, the crunching leaves sounding like a whole herd was passing through.

Just out of camp we come across a big, old bull elephant feeding on fallen tamarind fruits. His tusks are worn down, evidence of his 50 plus years.

 

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It’s still quite nippy as we reach the river but, as soon as the sun gains a little height, the temperature climbs. It’s a wide open area of grazing lawns close to the river and we four guests walk in single file behind Lameck and Bernard, stopping to look at prints and poos. We find bright, white hyena droppings and fur-filled lion droppings.

 

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We stop at a termite mound that rises to a point around 3-4 metres high and Lameck shows us the termites, a species called Fungus termites, although I can’t remember if they feed on fungus or create the conditions for fungus to grow in the termitarium.

 

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I’m so tired from the lack of sleep that I’m finding the walk quite hard going, especially as it’s along a hot and sandy river bed. A couple of Saddle-billed Storks are feeding in the water and an elephant’s footprints make a pathway across the sand, looking like a plan for a stepping stone path to be laid.

 

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By the time we get back to the vehicle I’m feeling exhausted and so I sit quietly in the vehicle with my tea. Banded (Band Aid!) mongoose run across in a line, much too fast for me to grab the camera. They run in a line because this makes them appear as one long animal, thereby less prone to predation. It’s the same reason that we walk in single file, so that we don’t look like individual humans.

 

After morning tea we return to the scene of yesterday’s vulture feast but there’s nothing to show except a few bits of horn which confirm that it was a buck impala. This shows just how important vultures are in the ecosystem because they are the cleaners and, without them, there would be rotting pieces of flesh and skin left around.

Back at camp I spot a hippo on the far bank that appears to have upwardly curving tusks similar to a warthog’s tusks. I take a photo while it’s drinking and show it to Ernest who explains that the hippo’s incisors failed to meet and so they’ve continued to grow and curve back around its face.

 

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During lunch a large bull ele appears on the opposite bank. The OH and I move to the river bank to watch and we can hear branches cracking and tearing as it feeds. It disappears into thick bush but then we see a pregnant woman and a young boy walking along the sand, probably heading towards the fishermen a short distance up river. They are walking very close to the water’s edge, not a good tactic given the density of crocodiles and hippos here, but this must be because they have heard the elephant in the bush. Suddenly they run back a little way, wait and then move forward again, all the while looking at the bush. They move slowly, stopping and starting, keeping their eyes on the bush. Once past the area where we last saw the ele, they speed up and are soon gone.

 

We’re hoping that the dogs might be around but Lameck says that the Zambia Carnivore Programme, which tracks the dogs, says the dogs are too far away at the moment. Maybe tomorrow! We drive upriver to the point where a hippo carcass is in the river. It died right outside camp and, to prevent it stinking the camp out, some local fishermen were paid to tow it away. It’s now largely submerged, so that keeps down the smell, and it’s surrounded by crocs waiting for the flesh to rot some more so that it softens and can be torn off more easily.

 

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Driving on, but still close to the river, we spot a family group of eight eles feeding peacefully in the long grass that is now turning gold in the late afternoon light, a time that’s known as the golden hour. We’re sitting watching them feed when, from behind us, comes a low sound. Lion! We all turn round and see a female lion walk across the river bed. She’s still quite young with spots on her legs, probably a bit over two years old, says Lameck. The puku and impala are snorting and whistling their alarm calls and they stand like statues, eyes fixed on the predator, ready to flee at any moment. She trots along, turning to look at us frequently. She’s wary and clearly not habituated to vehicles. She walks off a little way and then lies down on the sand. The call she made was a contact call so there must be other lions around. Tourism is so new in the park, just the second season for this sole camp, that all the predators are not yet known and Lameck radios ZCP to let them know. It’s exciting to realise that we’ve made a discovery. The light is fading but we stay with the lion and sundowners become nightdowners.

 

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The night drive throws up a gorgeous Civet staring right back at us, all grey and black with a bandit face mask rather like a racoon. There’s a Genet and then two Lesser Bushbabies together on a branch (although the rather dreadful photo suggests there were three!). 

 

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We’re getting close to camp and Lameck radios his ’10 minutes’  call but after just five minutes – lions! Two young males, around 4 years old, handsome and healthy, are walking through a thicket. They sit down, staring at us disinterestedly, then one gets up, nuzzles his brother and walks off a short distance. Lameck thinks that these are two of the three brothers that have been sighted regularly in the park. We wonder where the third one might be. Patrolling the territory? Mating? The brother returns and they play fight a little.

 

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We return happy to camp. The OH has seen his first lions today.

 

 

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Edited by Galago

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wilddog

How lovely to come across those lions at the end of the day.

 

I well remember the really noisy hippos shouting at night. No wonder you were tired.

 

Enjoying this report;  thank you.

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AfricIan

Great report @Galago and some smashing photos, looks like I have to add Luambe to our list of "next time" places :D.

 

What a nightmare with your flights, I bet your OH has wondering what he'd got himself into!  For our trip to Zambia last year we got a full e-Ticket Itinerary/Receipt for all our ProFlight's from our TO, I take it you didn't. 

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Galago

@wilddog  Thank you. Have you stayed there?  If so, I'd love to know what you thought of the camp. I think this was time of year related, ie. concentrated in an area of the river, but I've never ever come across noise like this before!

 

@africlan Oh gosh, yes he was but, unfortunately, worse was to come with hardly any sleep and awful food - for  whole week!!! Poor thing, he didn't know what had hit him (and thank goodness for Musekese which showed him what a good bush camp is about).  No, I didn't have an e-ticket itinerary, my mistake. It was a genuine cock-up by our TO and, as he's usually brilliant and my go-to person for this, hey, it can happen and we got there! And thank you for your kind words. Encouraging me to go on to the next installment!

Edited by Galago

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Galago

It’s pretty quiet this morning, just some distant eles with a year old calf, a giraffe and half a dozen female Kudu. Lesser Masked Weavers are building their hanging straw nests over a river, suspending them from an uprooted tree. Have you ever noticed how the combination of pale eyes with a dark iris makes them look somewhat apoplectic? On the beach is a rather obligingly positioned croc.

 

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We return to the Carmine colony and have coffee watching them flying around us. I was particularly taken with an individual on a nearby branch munching away on a largish butterfly, or perhaps a moth.

 

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Then a couple of them posed just asking for a caption. Mine is, 'Yes, we tried relationship counselling....'  (Sorry, I know I anthropormorphise at times, and, yes, I know David A would tick me off!)

 

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Lunch is pizza for the fourth day running. Not only is it unlike any pizza I’ve ever encountered, the pastry base is a serious contender for vinyl flooring tiles. One of the guests describes it as pastry crumble, piled onto a thin slice of mushroom, a single spinach leaf, a smear of ketchup and rock hard pastry. The food here is really not good at all and far from the usual standards for a bush camp. Vegetables, either cooked or salad, are conspicuous in their absence (as in 6 slices of fried tomato between 8 guests) and, although this is the dry season, vehicles are to and fro from Mfuwe where, these days, there are good supplies and, in my experience, if bush camps way down in the south park can provide veggies, why are there none here? Combined with the lack of sleep this is proving to be tough, especially as this is the OH's first experience of a bush camp.If this sounds like I'm having a real moan, all I can say is that by now we were struggling and, for me on my 13th safari, this was an entirely new experience. Anyway, I spoke to Ernest and asked for more vegetables/ salad with our meals. He seemed surprised at my request but said he would do what he could.

 

At this stage I probably should show you a few pics of the source of the constant noise. Of course, they are endlessly photogenic but, believe me, I live in fairly central London, I travel with industrial earplugs and they broke through the sound barrier. Below is one pod, which looks pretty normal, but there were several other pods close by and all of them were just metres from the tents. 

 

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The Oxpeckers showed that they really are Birds with Attitude and they were endlessly entertaining.

 

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It turns out that ZCP have turned up to track the lion that we found yesterday and they’re out looking for the pride so that they can collar one of the females. I really hope they find them.

 

On the afternoon drive we hear, and then see, a raucous flock of Arrow-marked Babblers. The OH mishears what is, after all, a pretty strange name and thinks I’ve said ‘Aromatic Babblers’. They will be called that for evermore. 

 

Then we see the ele family with the youngster again, the sort of sight you can never see too often. I love the way that young eles always look like they're grinning their little heads off and they always seem to be so entirely pleased with life.

 

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We drive through the 'post-apocalyptic landscape which, if I were an artist, I would just love to paint.

 

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Not very far along from here we come across some Marabou storks, not an unusual sight but these seem to be smarter looking than usual. Lameck explains that during very hot weather they pee down their legs. Th pee evaporates as it dries, cooling them and leaving their legs snow white, both smart and light reflecting. Don't you just love it when you see a critter that you've seen gazillions of times before and you see and learn something new!

 

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We head towards the plains and a small herd of eles is very skittish. They run around a little and trumpet loudly, then one makes a mock charge at us. This is fun for the OH because he's never seen this but, if I'm honest, who doesn't just love a mock charge. They soon run off and, at the same time, I feel bad about disturbing them. However, this is what makes Luambe interesting because the critters are not habituated and so the sightings are just that bit different from those in more touristy areas.

 

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Driving on I get a reasonable crack at a posing Lilic-brested Roller, that iconic 'tart's tick' of southern Africa. It's my thirteenth safari and the first time I've got a half decent shot - hurrah! It reminds me of the first time I was in sub-Saharan Africa. It was April 2001 and I'd done a week's cheapie trip (with Naturetrek) when we flew into Lilongwe via Addis and then drove overland to Mopani Lodge in the Valley. I was green as grass but entirely fortunate because my four companions were knowledgeable birders and conservationists and our guide was the legendary Abraham Banda. It was supposed to be a half hour drive from the lodge to the gates to South Luangwa National Park. It took three hours. Along with the most amazing, gleaming birds like Glossy Starlings, we saw this one. And you have to admit, it's a total paint-by-numbers stunner!

 

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There are Cookson’s Wildebeest and a large herd of buffalo, but they all keep their distance from us. Buffalo peer at us through tall grass against a deepening pink sky and some have remarkably large horns.

 

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As darkness falls we see a couple of Honey Badgers trotting along and then a young, male lion. It turns out that the two lions we saw last night were not part of the coalition of three brothers, but this male is. That means there are several males around and fights over females and territory could be on the cards. A couple of White-tailed mongooses run across the path.

 

 

 

Edited by Galago

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Galago

Once again we round the corner from camp at sunrise and there’s a group of six eles feeding. They are nervous at first but we sit quietly watching them and, having looked back at us for a while, they relax and slowly wander off.

 

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The mopane woodland in the bright, early light is stunning with the new, glossy, bronze-green leaves on the trees, the dead brown leaves swept by the wind into patterns on the sandy ground and the dead trees looking like grey, twisted sculptures.

 

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In the ‘post-apocalyptic’ habitat there are tens of Red-billed Hornbills getting ready to fly out for the day from their roosting trees. Hornbills are strange birds, they really have the beadiest of beady eyes and the way they peer down over their long, downwardly curved red bills is comical but also rather wise looking. 

 

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There are a couple of conventional road signs in the park, the red triangle on a pole type. These give the wavy water symbol and say ‘crossing’. It seems quite anomalous to have road signs in a place where there’s no real traffic, in fact no vehicles apart from the camp’s and the odd passing tourist driving between North and South Parks. But these signs are to show where there’s a crossing place in the river at low water for local people bringing supplies that need to be transported to the other side. As the whole area floods every year, the landscape changes and no one can rely on finding their way through to the right spot without these signs.

 

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Next to one of the signs is a disused group of nests built by White-browed Sparrow-weavers. These are common birds and one of the characteristic sounds of the Luangwa Valley as they move around in sociable flocks, continually making contact calls. Lameck jumps out and picks up a nest that’s fallen to the ground. It’s a large, circular affair made of dried grasses woven together, an untidy but, nevertheless, intricate construction. In the group only the alpha pair breed and their nest has one entrance/ exit. All the other nests are used just for roosting at night and these have two entrances/ exits so that, if a snake comes along, they can shoot out the ‘back door’.

 

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We stop for coffee on a wide, open grazing lawn with groups of puku, a lone bull giraffe and Southern Ground Hornbills slowly and methodically moving across as they feed. Lameck tells us that this is the site for the second camp which will be built in the trees and overlooking this lawn and the river. At least it’ll be a relatively hippo free site! Apparently there will be three tents/ chalets and one vehicle + guide.

 

A Grey Lourie poses rather nicely and a bull giraffe looks just as gorgeous as they always do.

 

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Out on the grazing lawns, where we stop for morning coffee, the critters show themselves wonderfully.

 

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And then the good ole tart's tick does another great pose!

 

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Afternoon tea in camp is accompanied by another elephant river crossing, this time about ten of them slowly making their way to the far bank (most inconsiderately against the light!). They stay in a close formation, youngsters in the middle for protection. At one point all the adults stand in a circle looking outwards, so presumably there are crocs lurking under water. As they climb up the river bank a young male pushes another youngster back down again and they tussle for a while. The Sacred Ibis look like tiny sparrows against them.

 

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We set off at 3.30 and, as is almost predictable now, we have an ele encounter not far from camp. This time it’s a lone bull, still quite young, and he objects to our presence. His ears are out and his trunk is up as he makes a half-hearted charge at us, then turns and trots off into the bush, turning to stare at us through the scrub with a look that says, ‘I could’ve got you, really I could’ve. I just didn’t feel like it today.’

 

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Back at camp we hear that ZCP successfully collared a female lion earlier that morning so we decide to look for her and her pride but she’s not to be seen in the area. Perhaps she’s gone to drink at the river? There’s no sign so we drive along the river and get a nano-second glimpse of some movement, although it’s impossible to say what it could be. Although it’s a fairly dry river bed there are dips and small bluffs that make a good view difficult. Round a bend is a giraffe, rooted to the spot, staring intently in one direction. As we approach he turns, registers our vehicle and then returns to his fixed stare. There’s something there, and most probably it’s a predator. We sit silently and wait for a long time. Eventually, as the light is fading, Lameck decides to drive in a wide loop so that we come in sideways to the area the giraffe is fixed on. As we approach I see one round ear. That’s a lion’s ear! Then there’s a head, and then another head, and another until the initial lion becomes a group of five lions lying in the sand at the base of a low bluff. There’s an older female sporting a brand new collar, three sub-adult females and a young male. If you wonder why there are only four lions in the pics, the fifth was lying down, fusing to join in the group pose.

 

 

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We move a little way off and enjoy our sundowners in the river bed, just 100m from the lions.

 

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That evening I ask for a separate table so that the OH and I can enjoy a ‘bush dinner’ on our own. The table is set out nicely with serviettes folded to look like cranes and, for once, the food isn’t bad.

 

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Edited by Galago

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lmonmm

I have been so interested in reading this report as I have really wanted to go to Luambe. A little worried about the food- I love pizza but even I won't eat it every day. And the noise- though I probably wouldn't go that time of year. Maybe it would be different?  Interesting to read about another camp? Are they doing so well to add that? Interesting, but good news I would think. I have to say, I laughed quite a bit over the carmines and the relationship counseling- personally I thought it was a perfect caption. Loved all the elephants. Makes me sad to read how skittish everyone is...makes me wonder about why :(  I look forward to more.

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Galago

@Imonmm  Glad you liked the caption.  The animals are skittish simply because they're not habituated as the park was neglected for so long. That will gradually change I'm sure. I think the noise levels would reduce when the river is higher as the hippos would be more dispersed. From my experience I'd say that any time other than the end of the dry season is likely to be ok. @wilddog commented on this earlier and may be able to shed more light on your question.

The food was pretty bad and I think the chefs just hadnt had adequate training. It was a strange schedule: early morning tea and coffee and hard biscuits; breakfast around 9am of eggs, bacon, sausages, baked beans, toast and apples or bananas; lunch was pizza (but not as we know it Jim); tea with biscuits; dinner was so forgettable I can only remember one meal. After a few days I asked for more vegetables and, having initially been met with puzzlement, we did get some salads at lunch. 

On our return I wrote a full report for our TO (as I had other, more serious complaints, as you'll see later) and they have said that they will be changing the schedule next season.

The camp's owner has used his own money and all profits are ploughed back into conservation in Luambe so I'm not sure that the planned second camp is simply an indication of financial success/ doing very well, rather it's part of a conservation initiative.

I hope that helps @Imonmm. I'll explain more about the camp in subsequent installments and I'll also outline the response to my complaints via our TO. I did raise my concerns at the time and in person and didn't leave it all until later.

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wilddog

@Galago my visit to Luambe was 10 years ago approximately. I was the only guest in camp and had a lovely time and the food was excellent. The camp then closed at some point after that to be opened again within the last 2 years.

 

It sounds as if the have not quite got things on the right track. I do hope they can get it sorted.

 

 

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Galago

@wilddog Thank you. That must've been quite an experience! A different outfit then and clearly a rather different set up. Yes, this was their second season, so I hope they will get in right this year.

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wilddog

It was good but clearly not financially viable. That of course is the challenge

 

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AfricIan

Loving this TR @Galago.  Luambe looks to offer so much, shame it appears to be let down by things that are easily put right (although I don't know what other horrors await!).

 

That photo of the two Carmine Bee-eaters is a classic :D

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ForWildlife

Wonderful report! I think that the first lioness in the riverbed, is the same individual as the one which got collared. It's definitely not a young individual. She has a black nose. I would say it's an individual in her late prime age. Spots are possible on lions of all ages, although indeed more prominent on younger individuals. The right ear seem odd, a little lower on the head, and there is a stripe down the muzzle. Both are visible on the pictures from both days.

Interesing very pink now the lioness in the right of the picture. Would love to see the back of the ears or the tailtip of that one.

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Galago

@ForWildlife Yes, that's right, it was the female lion we'd seen the evening previously. And, yes, she was very much the matriarch of that group, as you can see in her face. It was so exciting to be part of a new discovery for ZCP. Not often you can do that on safari! Also, I was so surprised to have such good lion sightings. As Luambe critters are not habituated to vehicles I'd warned the OH that we probably wouldn't see lions there. How wrong was I - haha!

And thank you very much for your kind words.

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Grasshopper_Club

Wow great start of your TR @Galago, I must say I'm quite jealous about your itinerary. That's what I'm trying to combine now for the second year and it didn't worked in my planning. I was really looked forward to go to Luambe this year, but again sticked to the Kafue again and Musekese.

 

Great pictures and sightings! Looking forward for more...

 

Sad to to hear you had some complaints there, especially about the food.  As this is something usally a non Issue  in all the Camps I've been, on the contrary...to good sometimes.

But a nuisance , especially for your OH on his first Safari.

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Feliz

Beautifully written report and lovely images - can't wait for more

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ForWildlife
19 hours ago, Galago said:

@ForWildlife Yes, that's right, it was the female lion we'd seen the evening previously. And, yes, she was very much the matriarch of that group, as you can see in her face. It was so exciting to be part of a new discovery for ZCP. Not often you can do that on safari! Also, I was so surprised to have such good lion sightings. As Luambe critters are not habituated to vehicles I'd warned the OH that we probably wouldn't see lions there. How wrong was I - haha!

And thank you very much for your kind words.

 

Indeed very cool! Did you come across them again? I'm really interested to see more photos of the pink-nosed female!

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Alexander33

I, too, am interested in hearing more information about the camps.  For right now, however, I’m still mesmerized by the scene of the elephants drinking from the river with carmine bee-eaters swirling all around them. What a magical sight!

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